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MD Triple-Tested: 2011 BMW F800R

Gabe Ets-Hokin: Age: 41, Height: 5’6”, Favorite Cream Album: Wheels of Fire

It’s pretty late in the year to be testing BMW’s F800R—after all, it’s been on sale in Europe for two years, and we’ve known it’s been coming here since last fall. But it’s such a good, satisfying bike, we thought it was worth a write-up, especially when we see how much interest there is in naked standards in our feedback.

In theory, the F800R sounds about perfect for those looking for a sporting middleweight standard Twin—fairly light, good power, premium suspension and it’s based on BMW’s F800S,  which is a good thing. However, it’s had some tweeks to give it some character of its own.

The motor is tuned for low-end grunt. It’s rated at 87 horsepower (about 80 at the wheel) and makes foot-pound numbers in the ’50s from 3000 rpm all the way to the 8900 rpm redline. It’s also counterbalanced, has a novel semi-dry sump, stacked transmission shafts and a zillion other tricks to make this one of the smoothest, most powerful and technologically advanced parallel Twins on the market. It also sounds cool, if you think the oddball blatting of old BMW Boxers is as cool as I do.

Chassis is as conventional as the engine is avant-garde. Twin-spar aluminum frame, double-sided swingarm, 43mm non-adjustable conventional Showa forks, linkage-equipped preload-and-damping-adjustable shock. There’s even a chain back there. It all weighs in at 450 pounds wet on Motorcycle Consumer News‘ scale (BMW claims 438), with a long 59.8-inch wheelbase. Small by BMW standards, perhaps.

But the brilliance of the F800R is that it feels much smaller and more manageable than its weight would suggest. The 4.2-gallon tank is under the seat, and the steering geometry, handlebar style and weight distribution are all nicely balanced. Everybody who rides one remarks how nice the handling is, with light steering effort and high-speed stability. It’s a pleasure to ride, not a burden, with no bad habits.

So what is it? It’s a bike without a niche. You can commute, tour, do a track day or two if you’re not too nutty, maybe even tackle a fire road. In short, it’s what the classic BMW airhead Twins were—a solidly built, dependable partner in crime that will do most of what you ask of it. Base price is $9990 (and good luck finding a base model, but it’s okay—the add-ons are good stuff that you want, like ABS and heated grips), pricey for a “budget” bike, but you get a unique motorcycle that will please just about anybody who rides one.

Alan Lapp Age: 43, Height: 6′ 2”, Favorite Cream Album: Crème d’ Menthe

I’ll admit right up front that I’ve never been a big fan of BMW bikes. It really boils down to two facts: I’m tall, and I’m usually broke. I hit my shins on the cylinders of the Boxer motor bikes every time I try to back one out of a parking space. Being broke means the newer multi-cylinder bikes have generally been out of reach. The singles seem like an answer to a question I didn’t ask.

When Gabe suggested I spend some quality time getting to know the 2011 F800R, I leaped at the chance to update my opinion. A few years ago, I used an early 800ST for a couple days and really liked it—it was very agreeable, if somewhat plain-vanilla. My impression at the time was that it was a great $9000 bike, except that it actually cost $12,000. Now, the real excitement for me is that this is the first twin-cylinder BMW priced below $10,000 seemingly since the Clinton administration. Perhaps BMW listened to potential clients and built something for them instead of aiming at their existing customer base. Smart move.

The most interesting thing I noticed about riding the BMW is that people like it. Notice I said “people,” not just other motorcyclists, which, in my experience, is very unusual. Furthermore, people make comments specifically about the bike beyond the banal “nice day for a ride” drivel you get from bored gas station clerks. And it is striking in white bodywork with black frame and suspension components, handsome in a purposeful, angular, muscular way that seems fresh and current.

The next thing worthy of comment is the ergonomics: the BMW wins hands down. I felt immediately very comfortable on the bike and it has a truly wonderful seat. The relationship between the seat and bars is really good, although the pegs are a little higher than they need to be, but I say that about most bikes.

Some of the most notable successes on the F800R are the brakes and the easy-to-be-relaxed riding position. The brakes feel good all the way from “I’m going to roll on the throttle just as I feather off the brakes right past the apex of this decreasing radius turn” to “OMG! Why is that idiot abruptly moving into my lane, with his rear bumper aligned perfectly with my front wheel?” More importantly, the throttle response is crisp, clean, and linear. This is why an accomplished rider can use the above-mentioned trail braking technique so pleasingly on this bike. It all works together nicely as a team, mostly.

The close-ratio transmission was the only thing I found a bit out of place on the F800R. Over 40 mph, and hard on the gas, it’s a real joy to row the short throw shifter up and down through the top five gears. In fact, it’s one of the nicest, most silky-smooth gearboxes I’ve ridden with in ages. The problem is that all close-ratio transmissions are a trade-off. In order to space the high gears so enticingly closely, first gear must be so very tall that it causes the bike to feel underpowered and dreary at lower speeds. Redline in first results in an astronomical 60 mph. That means that cruising around town is essentially a one-gear affair. I frequently found myself going 35 mph and trying to downshift from first into first.

The ultra-tall gearing also drags down the acceleration. The F800R has 87 horsepower at the brochure (Eighty on the MCN dyno—ed.), but you’d never know it to ride it. It simply will not power wheelie in first gear. Admittedly, this is asking Alfred the Butler to participate in juvenile hooliganism, but c’mon. If the gearing were shuffled around so first topped out at 50 instead of 60, and each gear had a slightly wider gap between them, it would make more sense.

The suspension is usually where budget-conscious bikes fall down, but the BMW suspension bits are much nicer, having a cartridge fork, adjustable damping on the shock, and a hydraulic preload adjuster. The shock adjuster is easily reached, and you can turn it with your bare hands. Unfortunately, the sole rebound-adjustment knob seems to alter only low-speed damping and both compression and rebound simultaneously. It was impossible to achieve both supple ride and control while leaned over. I settled on mostly cushy, and lived with a little wallowing in the turns.

Alan Lapp is a graphic designer and is Art Director for CityBike Magazine, Northern California’s best known source for motorcycle news, reviews and birdcage lining. Check out his illustration work in Racetech’s Motorcycle Suspension Bible.

Heidi Burbank: Age: 38, Height: 5′ 6”, Favorite Cream Album: The Best of Cream

Previously unable to touch the ground with both feet on any other BMW motorcycle, I was shocked by the F800R’s low seat height—it’s adjustable to 32.5 inches or to 30.5 inches with optional seats. The F800R’s perch was also nicely cushioned, and BMW placed the F800R fuel tank under the seat for a noticeably lower center of gravity.

The naked F800R is sexy and sporty. The tank has a sharp modern aerodynamic shape that your body just fits into with an ultra-low center of gravity. As a daily commuter, I really appreciate the on-board computer. I could instantly, visually check tire pressure, gear position, outside temperature, fuel consumption, and time. The BMS-KP gives the rider an abundance of information at the touch of a finger, including two trip meters and more. From the electronic fuel injection to the lightweight stock exhaust, BMW took no short cuts with the F800R. The asymmetrical H7 headlight is extremely bright and clear, excellent for traveling at night and showing an impressive distance for path of travel. The small windscreen gives sufficient wind deflection, however, I would not give up my full face helmet.

Newbies might want to practice a slow roll-on in first gear with the BMW F800R… it felt kind of  punchy and maybe a little too power-packed for a new rider. Once into higher gears, the BMW F800R throttle roll-on is really smooth.

The only complaint I have with the BMW F800R is the increased vibration in sixth gear—especially at 60 mph or faster—in the handlebars and pegs. The vibration also distorted the vision in the mirrors, and I found myself constantly readjusting my throttle hand to grab more power—frustrating after an hour of riding. A Throttle Rocker or similar device may help eliminate this need to constantly readjust. In lower gears and at lower speeds I only sensed a slight vibration.

The BMW F800R shifts very smoothly and quietly with a small click, and the clutch was soft and easy to use. The F800R is naked and slim in design, making tight squeezes through traffic easy. The body position and seating keeps you upright and high, which allows for better visibility for splitting lanes and viewing upcoming traffic. Body and bar position made riding through curves and tight turns easy, a perfect urban bike.

Commuting was enjoyable. For long-distance riding, the F800R would definitely please the seasoned rider with its excellent suspension, heated hand grips and steering damper—I wish more motorcycle manufacturers would place steering dampers on their bikes as standard equipment. All these components and the well-cushioned saddle make riding the F800R comfortable for long distances. Furthermore, the suspension on the F800R is well suited for carrying a passenger and luggage.

Traveling on rough roads and through tight curves, the steering damper made a huge difference in maintaining control. Plus, the (optional) heated grips were nice to have on cold mornings. Riding in temperatures as low as 39 degrees with winter riding gloves with the grips set to level one was not noticeable, however, at level two (the highest setting) I could feel a little warmth. A level three would have been nice for real cold mornings. When riding in temperatures above 50 degrees you could feel warmth at both levels.

It’s also warm and comfortable on the wallet. Infrequent gas stops are welcome with gas prices closing on five dollars a gallon. Although I expected the BMW to average roughly 55mpg, in my 800 miles of mostly commuting seat time, I averaged in the mid-40s.

More than impressive was the Brembo braking system on the BMW. Brembo 320mm double-disk front brakes and a single disk rear brake are grabbed by four-piston fixed calipers. I felt the ABS system was well worth the extra $900.

Overall, the BMW F800R felt compact, solid, and very reliable. This sporty naked bike has more torque than any bike in its class, is lightweight and will seamlessly rip through the curves. I always felt like I was riding a dirtbike on steroids, which made romping the roads on the BMW very entertaining. The F800R would please any rider, new or seasoned, with its exceptional agility, and near perfect riding position. You won’t be disappointed with the power delivery, economy or handling qualities of the BMW F800R.

Heidi Burbank is an MSF Rider Coach and her first ride was on an 80cc Yamaha dirtbike when she was 12 (back when gas tanks were metal). She likes ice cream and has racked up 45,000 commuting miles on her 2008 YZF-R6. Because she lives in East Oakland, California, she calls the brakes on the BMW “Brem-Bros.”

The manufacturer provided Motorcycle Daily with this motorcycle for purposes of evaluation.

51 Comments

  1. Wilson R says:

    Sounds like a chick bike. Sorry.

  2. Rat Patrol says:

    I have had a 1600 kms (1,000 mile) weekend on this bike and my mates on their 1000cc+ bikes didn’t want to hang with me on the tight bits. Any power advantage they have was a mute point most of the weekend.
    Fuel range is never less than 380kms per tank, 430 kms if more or less restricted to 100kph speed limit. I’m no doughboy but still weigh in at 200lbs with a rear pack full of gear so that mileage is pretty good.
    I guess it’s the most useable bike I’ve had…. an allrounder like we all used in the 60s/70s.
    Another mate’s Tiger 800 is equally pleasing but thirstier and obviously heavier. I think the Beemer’s underseat petrol tank providing a low centre of gravity accentuates the feeling of agility. Both great bikes though.

  3. Rat Patrol says:

    Very, very subjective view expressed by this person.

    the Tiger 800 and the 800R actually are within a whisker of the same rear wheel 80-81 HP. The Beemer is lighter, more economical and has more range…..all nice traits. Both have equally good torque spread but the BMW doesn’t have to be revved as high to achieve maximum HP.
    Having ridden both and liking them both I’d be expressing a fair and educated opinion, not a bias.

  4. Jim says:

    As the owner of an unattractive bike (’09 Versys) I gotta say, that thing is fugly!

  5. Der Mouse says:

    Ride any or all of the BMW 800 twins, then ride a Triumph Tiger 800. No comparison. The Triumph is more powerful, smoother and less vibey, has a better torque spread, shifts easier, etc. Add to that the character of the triple and the higher level of build quality. Yes indeed, the British-made Tiger has nicer paint, quality fittings and just plain looks better built. The Beemers win on fuel mileage, period. Is that why you ride?

    • Tami says:

      Speaking of build quality, you might want to take a closer look at the Tiger 800 XC and tell me how you’re going to replace those WELDED on parts if you drop it versus the BOLTED on parts on the BMW GS bikes. That’s just poor off-road bike design on Triumph’s part – unless they never intended it to go off-road in the first place.

  6. Tom Shields says:

    Oh, by the way – my favorite Cream album is…. all of ‘em!

  7. Tami says:

    I just bought this bike, trading up from an ’03 620 Monster. The Duc was a fun bike, especially around town, but after 300 mile rides I was more than ready to dismount. Considered other bikes (FZ8, Street Triple), but eventually picked the BMW for the way it fits me and the plethora of aftermarket goodies. I agree with virtually everything they say in the article, including the niggling issues they point out like the bar vibration over 60 mph. But being short (5′-4″) and on the petite side, this bike is very comfortable and agile for me to ride. I like the naked look more than true tourers, and while the 800GS would have been an amazing bike, the seat height means it’s impossible for me. I’ve just ordered a ZTechnik screen to make the 800R more suitable for longer rides, and I can’t wait to try it out.

  8. Marc says:

    I’ll wait for Husky to put that engine into a lighter stripped down bike.

  9. Roadrash1 says:

    I want to like this bike. I do like this bike. It just doesn’t make sense for me to buy one. I compare what would be better about it than my almost paid for Street Triple R. (Come on IRS refund check…)

    I have motorcycle ADD. I keep buying and selling bikes almost every year. But, like my sudden realization years ago, that dating ex-cheerleaders had a short-term payoff, I may be having that OMG moment with my Triumph.

    If I didn’t already have a great naked bike, or I thought I couldn’t live without ABS, it would be at the top of my list!

  10. Tom Shields says:

    I like the F800R’s appearance. It looks like a “motorcycle.” Unadorned, mostly free of trendy design cues, with everything just kind of hanging out there, it still manages to look simple and uncluttered. I think it reminds me of the early ’70s Japanese invasion bikes like the Honda CB750 and Kawa Z-1 – not so much that it looks just like them, but with the same philosophy about what should be visible (like the engine! – all of it!).

    Appearances aside, the article describes a bike that is user-friendly, utilitarian and fun, so I think BMW has a winner.

  11. Mickey says:

    Mickey, 60 for 1 more week, 5’6″ Favorite Cream Album: Disraeli Gears

    Looks like a nice enough bike, but still a bit too Starwarish for me. I agree with all the naysayers on the “premuim” suspension comment..if you’d have just said “quality” the reaction would not have been quite as negative. I being of sound mind, but short stature have sat on one of these and was able to reach the ground so that put’s it in the I’d consider it class for me, but being the old fart I am, would rather have a R1200R, or an R1200R Classic if I were buying a Beemer, and would rather have another Triumph Bonneville (had one, nice bike, needed more horses and better brakes) if I were buying a parallel twin. Being realistic, I still think for my money, if I could only have one bike, I’d go with a Ninja 1000 or a Bandit 1250SFA, probably the Ninja due to the lighter weight. For now though, I’m sticking with my ST, my FZ and my CB as they still toot my horn and do what I need them to do, and they are paid for.

  12. Neil says:

    Ok, who else goes to reply to someone’s post and hits the report this comment instead of the greyed out reply button! How about a HUGE reply button!?

  13. Neil says:

    I sat on it and found the footpegs high too. Never dragged the pegs on my Honda Nighthawk but then, with trees, cars and guardrails, who is dragging hard parts on the street? Yes, on a twisty mountain pass in the Alps. Gotta please all the people. Sometimes they have a clip ons version of a bike and the Roadster has higher bars and the same footpegs which Kawasaki has done with the 650R and Suzuki with the Gladius. Higher bars to me means the pegs have to get lower so I don’t feel like I am pushing into the tank and giving myself a wedgie. One road test said the vibration on this bike was annoyingly high. Looks nice. I would enjoy one, all said and done.

  14. ziggy says:

    Certainly serviceable and pleasant, but banal and non-offensive. The bike is missing one key ingredient: Testosterone.

    Oh, and BTW BMW, your headlights make it look like Bill the Cat is squeezing out a dump!

    • Maxine says:

      Ha! Bill the Cat! I’ve been wondering, ever since BMW started putting that assymetrical headlight on various models, just where I’d seen it before… Thanks, Ziggy.

    • MikeD says:

      LOL, the one that i hear often is “The WTF Face”(one eye almost closed the other one wide open).

  15. Otter says:

    It looks like a fun bike, and I’ll try it out at the dealership, but I’m not changing from the bigger BMWs. Whatever niche this fits into, I’m not part of it. Maybe if I could pick a bike just for commuting and horsing around on, I’d reconsider.

  16. Vrooom says:

    Promising bike if available for $9K, but you know BMW dealers will stock with every option available and $11.5-12K is what you’ll see at the dealer. BMW’s apparently is getting more realistic with their horsepower #s, used to be they’d claim 110 and it would dyno at 82, though this is a chain drive rather than their normal shaft. Which means you could change the gearing to get those first gear power wheelies, though the reduction in gearing through the rest of the close ratio transmission might get annoying. I really want to lay eyes on the Trumpet.

    • Neil says:

      Yeah I don’t get the tall first gear and shorter higher gears thing, unless it is an engineering thing on paper. I like moderately spaced gears that are all about the same with a tall sixth for the highway.

      • Jeremy in TX says:

        Especially with a torquey motor. The close spacing seems unreasonable.

      • blackcayman says:

        My bet is they are trying to manage the buzziness of the twin (reported on the 800 GS) Slap a nice 800 triple to solve that. I can’t wait for the side by side comparo with the Triumph!

    • Charles Corum says:

      I have a R1200GS (my 6th Beemer) and love it for loaded long-haul tours; but I needed something lighter and more nimble for around town. I looked at the F800 series (and rode a rented F800GS on a tour in Patagonia), and liked the ergonomics and handling. However, I thought the out-the-door cost of $12K+ was excessive. I also really liked the Triumph Street Triple, but again the cost was a deal-breaker. It’s also a magnet for bike thieves.

      I ended with the 2011 Kawasaki KLR650, (which I had owned before) and am very satisfied. It was under $7K out-the-door, has a dry weight of under 400 lbs., a 6.1 gallon tank, and is very nimble and fun to ride. You can also “farkle” (accessorize) to your heart’s content. It has a great reputation for durability, and many have used it for hardcore global tours.

      Lastly, the BMW and Triumph, with their on-board computers means you have to take them back to the shop for anything but low-level maintenance, whereas the KLR650 is a breeze to work on.

  17. Bud says:

    First BMW I’d consider buying. I hope they continue in this direction. I still think there must be weight savings to be had. And for me, the asymmetrical lighting/fairing would take a lot of getting used to. Looks too “thrown together”.

  18. Dave says:

    Mid 40s on gas mileage from an 800cc on average use. Sucks. But I’m hearing the Triumphs are not much better. My 01 Sprint get me 50 mpg almost all the time. Guess I’ll keep her.

  19. MGNorge says:

    Rick 57, favorite Cream album: Disraeli Gears

    I have to say I’m more intrigued with the Triumph Triples but I haven’t ridden either.

  20. Stinky says:

    I’d love to love this thing. I’ve had a Beemer for years. Love them,buuuut, I don’t like chains, vibration, and small gas tanks. I know the technology exists to kill these vibrations but sometimes it takes many tries to kill them without rubbermounting the engine. I just don’t think BMW worked that hard on this bike, left to much up the the Chinese.

    • Tom R says:

      I have ridden this bike and the other 800s. I found them all to be actually quite smooth. Don’t really know what the fuss is about.

  21. harry says:

    harry age 60 height 5′ 10″ favorite cream album: Disraeli Gears.

  22. jimbo says:

    Center stand option?

  23. kpaul says:

    I don’t know about you guys but I don’t think their is anything more attractive than a pretty and intelligent woman on a bike. Nice review love the multiple perspectives. Nice looking bike for a BMW ;)

  24. jeff says:

    IMHO, buy the F650GS. Same riding position. Better luggage options. Better wind protection. Same premium non-adjustable forks. Same inflated price! And apparently it gets almost 15mpg more! We get 60-65mpg with ours. I know I have one so yes I can say it.

    The F650GS opened my eyes to an awesome motorcycle. Not saying the F800R isn’t as good, just seems there is more motorcycle with the GS.

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      I wonder if the difference in fuel economy are due mostly to the final gearing. Plus the F650GS is down on power compared to the F8. The F650GS seemed a little wimpy compared to F800GS when I rode them back-to-back. Not sure what the tuning differences between the two are, but it was apparent.

      Anyway, for me, the look of the 800R works, and the look of F650GS doesn’t. Despite more sensible gearing, better creature comforts and potentially better fuel economy (I’ll take the power over the fuel economy), the F650GS, good as it is, would not be on my short list next to the 800R.

  25. Kent says:

    “fairly light, good power, premium suspension…”
    “43mm non-adjustable conventional Showa forks”

    Um. The forks don’t sound very premium to me. Non-adjustable = non-premium.

    Please pick one.

    • Dirck Edge says:

      No.

      • Dave says:

        I just came from riding one of these, I have to disagree…there is nothing premium about that suspension…sorry. I mean, it keeps the bike off the ground, and I have ridden worse, but it’s average at best. Ok, tha’s harsh…it i ssolidly average. It’s undersprung and over-damped in the forks, and short on rebound damping in the shock (I couldn’t adjust it, but after returning from the ride I checked it and it was 5 clicks from the slowest setting).

        Besides, I disagree that you can have “premium” non-adjustable suspension. Part of being “premium” is being versatile, and there simply isn’t a way to have a non-adjustable fork work for a 150 pound person riding solo with no luggage, and also work well for a 200 pound person with loaded bags and a trunk. A bike with “premium” suspension can come close. This can’t.

        Also, 43mm is hardly beefy. I mean, I think it’s sufficient, but beefy? A 99 CBR600F4i has 43mm forks, as does a 94 RF600, or a 24 year old GSXR750. I don’t remember marveling at the “beefy” forks on the 94 RF600, do you? And that was 17 years ago.

        I get it that you like the bike, but let’s try to keep our heads here. I mean sure, it’s priced better than BMWs of the past, and maybe it’s a solid value, and I do think it’s a good bike, but let’s not get carried away.

        On a side note, I really enjoyed riding the bike. It’s very comfortable, the best looking BMW maybe ever (modern times I mean), it’s very ‘conventional’ feeling, and it’s genuine fun to be on. IMO anyone looking for a naked middleweight would be doing themselves a disservice not to consider this bike.

        Just don’t expect “premium” suspension :)

    • Gabe says:

      Suspension can be premium and not be adjustable! The F800′s uses good-quality triple clamps, and the damping and spring rates are very carefully selected. The 43mm tube dimension is also beefier than what you’d find on a budget bike.

      • Kent says:

        Is this suspension magical?

        Tell me how it can work well for my wide (110 pounds) riding solo, and work for me (185 pounds, loaded with gear for a 2 week camping trip.

        Hint: It can’t.

        I ride a 650 V-Strom, and I understand cheap suspension. At least I can easily dial in more pre-load when I go camping, and change the dampening – in a minute or less.

        Bikes are set for work for a range of rider weight, and the more adjustment offered (pre-load and dampening adjustments) the wider that range can be. You still have to work within the range of the spring weights, but adjustments make for a wider range.

        For example – I can add pre-load to my forks by turning a screwdriver. I can add pre-load to my wife’s 630 Monster by removing the springs and adding a spacer or changing the level or weight of oil. Neither bike has “premium” suspension, although the Monster’s is better – once I went through all the BS to get it set correctly.

        The BMW may have good suspension, but it is certainly *not* premium.

    • brinskee says:

      I have to go with Kent on this one. This is the same thing as saying a set of “premium one-size-fits-all” ski gloves. It’s a total oxymoron. Sure, the finest, most supple underbelly calfskin leather might have been used, but if I can’t get my damn hands in them, they are rubbish to me!

      There is such things as quality componentry non-adjustable forks, but not premium. My 6’6″ 225lb frame would probably hate them.

    • ziggy says:

      Kent’s right, no point in trying to defend the position. The market understands premium to mean both high quality and high adjustability to suite different riders and circumstances.

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      I’ve ridden bikes with adjustable suspension that were garbage. The OTB setup didn’t work well, and adjustments made almost imperceptible changes in those cases.

      That said, I agree that premium gives a bit too much credit to the suspension as I also associate the word premium with high-quality adjustable units. the BMW is at a price point where I would expect quality, adjustable suspension components, not just quality components.

  26. Superhawk says:

    Let’s get it compared to the SV’s and montors it competes with… Road and track days required…

    Also, I am 6’0″… I assume I will fit on it too. :)

  27. Tom B says:

    So Gabe is 4’6″ and Alan is age 93 and 5’14″? Is there anything real in this article? Or is it a Monday before coffee thing?

  28. ABQ says:

    About the same power as my r1150gs but 100 lbs. less weight. I thought my current bike would be my last. But here I have found my next ride. Which I will buy used, after the first has added heated grips, windshield and bags.